Wyatt Buchanan, Chronicle Sacramento Bureau
San Francisco Chronicle
Sunday, January 9, 2011
(01-09) 04:00 PST
Sacramento – —
Gov. Jerry Brown has told Californians to sit down, fasten their seat belts and brace themselves for the budget proposal he will unveil Monday to address a deficit that could top $28 billion. Last week, he said his proposal may be even more drastic than many anticipate.
“Everybody is concerned about everything, and I think when they see the budget they’ll have even more concerns than they do today,” Brown told reporters.
While the rhetoric is akin to his immediate predecessor, Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, the reaction by Democratic lawmakers who control the Legislature has changed.
Instead of declaring the proposal dead-before-arrival or warning Brown not to cut into the safety net for children, the poor and the elderly, Democrats say everything is up for consideration and California government in its current form will have to change.
“We’ve hit the wall, and I as a Democrat and chair of the budget committee recognize what the governor is going to propose on Monday is going to be very distasteful, very painful, opposed to everything we’ve fought for all of these years, but this is where we are,” said Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco.
Leno and other Democrats argue, however, that while proposals for cutting the budget may be similar, the difference is the person proposing the cuts.
“The difference is we now have leadership at the top where we didn’t the last seven years. Arnold Schwarzenegger never had a clue, and I mean this seriously, as to what he was doing relative to the severity of our budget crisis,” Leno said.
And perhaps most important is that Democrats are anticipating that Brown will propose a special election for this year with ballot measures that would raise taxes to stave off even deeper cuts. That’s something Schwarzenegger refused to consider after voters rejected an extension of temporary tax increases in a May 2009 special election and that Assembly Speaker John Pérez, D-Los Angeles, called “a significant distinction.”
“I think everybody is mindful of the fact that we still have a really dire economic challenge before us, and so we’ve got to be prepared to make tough decisions, but we also have to be prepared to put options before voters,” Pérez said.
Brown has offered no specifics on his budget proposal and would not confirm that he would seek an extension of tax increases when asked by reporters. Budget insiders and many others at the Capitol said they expect him to do so, and they also expect him to propose many of the same deep cuts to services like health care and welfare that were backed by Schwarzenegger the past few years.
But while Democrats are ready to ask voters to approve tax increases, doing so will require the support of at least some Republicans to meet the required two-thirds threshold. Republican leaders in both houses of the Legislature said they do not support putting a tax measure on the ballot.
They also said Brown could face increasing resistance from his own party once the proposals are made public.
Senate Republican Leader Bob Dutton of Rancho Cucamonga (San Bernardino County) said voters rejected tax increases in May 2009, and the cuts over the past few years have not been drastic or deep. He said Brown may run into the same roadblocks as Schwarzenegger.
“I think Brown actually has a sincere desire to (make cuts), but he’s going to run into the same roadblocks as previous governors have, because the majority in the Legislature dictate process and they dictate policy,” Dutton said. “Unless he is somehow able to get them to change, we probably won’t see much of an improvement.”
Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar (Los Angeles County), who is vice chairman of the Senate Budget Committee for the special session, said he sees the change so far as one of message by Democrats.
“Whether it changes their actual voting dynamic remains to be seen,” Huff said. “Brown needs to set the stage to make the cuts, and he’s doing that. Democrats are going along with that, probably as a honeymoon period, but we’ll see how it turns out.”
Steven Maviglio, a Democratic consultant who has served as communications director for former Gov. Gray Davis and former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez, said he thinks Democrats are in a wait-and-see mode and that it would be a “huge gamble” for them to approve cuts and then go to voters and ask for more revenue.
“The governor really has to use this honeymoon period to his maximum advantage in dealing with this Legislature,” Maviglio said.
Advocates for health and human services provided by the state are being cautiously optimistic and have even planned rallies for Monday to call for the governor and Legislature to consider a number of tax increases, including revamping Proposition 13, the measure limiting property taxes passed in 1978.
“I think people will be outraged by the cuts, but it’s more outrageous if it is only seeking to balance the budget by one strategy instead of putting other things on the table,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California.
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